Dáil Éireann - Volume 621 - 20 June, 2006
Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.
Mr. P. McGrath Mr. P. McGrath
Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the impact the lone parent proposals will have on the introduction of a part-time unemployment payment if enacted;  and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23087/06]
Mr. Deenihan Mr. Deenihan
Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on whether the rules governing the new parental allowance will cause age related poverty traps if introduced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23090/06]
Mr. Brennan Mr. Brennan
Mr. Brennan:I propose to take Questions Nos. 52 and 54 together.
The major discussion paper, “Proposals for Supporting Lone Parents” which I launched in March this year, addresses the social exclusion and risk of poverty faced by many such families and their children. The report puts forward proposals for reform of the income support system for all parents on a low income. The report proposes the expanded availability and range of education and training opportunities for lone parents, the extension of the National Employment Action Plan to focus on lone parents, focused provision of childcare, improved information services for lone parents and the introduction of a new parental allowance for low income families with young children.
The current one-parent family payment provides long term income support, until children are 18 or 22 if in full-time education, to those parenting alone, with no requirement to be available for or seeking employment. Such long term welfare dependency in respect of a person of working age is not considered to be in the best interests of the lone parent, their children or society in general. Numerous reports have indicated that employment is one of the most important routes out of poverty.
Under the proposed parental allowance, it is suggested that an element of conditionality be attached to receipt of the payment. Overall the report proposes that payment of parental allowance should cease when the youngest child reaches the end of their 7th year. This being the case, formal activation would commence when the child was age 5. This would give the parent the opportunity and supports required to engage in education or training for three years, before payment of parental allowance would cease.
There is no proposal in the Report to introduce a part-time unemployment payment. However, the Report also considered that the requirement to seek full-time work, which is inherent in the unemployment schemes of my Department, no longer reflects the atypical working patterns of many people in Ireland today, particularly women. The Report proposed that, in order to meet the ‘genuinely seeking work condition’ attached to the payment of Unemployment Assistance, seeking work of 19 hours and over should be sufficient. This is in line with the conditions applying to the Family Income Supplement. It is acknowledged that using a bench mark of 19 hours may have implications for other schemes and this will need to be explored further.
Activation, as referred to in the proposal, is ‘positive’ in nature; it encompasses interview/advice meetings, education and training and providing people with the skills to enable them to achieve financial independence and therefore, a better life for themselves and their children. While conditions are being suggested for receipt of payment, it is proposed that supports will be offered in a structured and systematic manner to the persons concerned. It is only in this context that continuing payment would be made conditional on engagement.
I would stress that the discussion paper acknowledges that the age to which the parental allowance should remain payable is a matter for decision by Government following the consultation process currently underway. I have listened carefully to the comments made by organisations representing lone parents at the recent consultation forum which I hosted and have asked them to submit their views and concerns in writing. I have also briefed the Oireachtas Committee on Social Affairs and debated the issue in the Seanad. I will take all of these views into account to arrive at the best possible solution for all.
I have asked the Senior Officials Group on Social Inclusion to draw up an implementation plan to progress the non-income recommendations of the discussion paper, including those related to childcare, education, training and activation measures and work on this has already commenced in consultation with the Departments and agencies concerned. Issues including the possible impact of the proposals on age related poverty traps, will be taken into account in the implementation of the proposals. I will listen closely to the views expressed and will give very serious consideration to them.
As soon as I am convinced that we have reached conclusions that are fully workable and equitable, it will be my intention to bring forward proposals for legislation in the course of this year.
Mr. Bruton Mr. Bruton
Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the decisions that he has made regarding possible payment to claimants whose allowance was cut following the High Court case on the back to education allowance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23080/06]
Mr. P. Breen Mr. P. Breen
Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of people whose back to education allowance was cut over the summer months for each year when the non-payment of the allowance over the summer months was applied by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23079/06]
Mr. Brennan Mr. Brennan
Mr. Brennan:I propose to take Questions Nos. 53 and 81 together.
 The Back to Education Allowance or BTEA is a second chance education opportunities scheme designed to encourage and facilitate people on certain social welfare payments to improve their skills and qualifications and, therefore, their prospects of returning to the active work force. In 2002 the Government in view of the expenditure constraints facing it at that time, appointed an independent Estimates Review Committee to consider the Estimates proposals received in the Department of Finance from Departments and Offices.
In its report to Government, that Committee recommended discontinuation of the practice of paying the Back to Education Allowance over the summer period to people who were formerly on the live register. The Government decided to implement that recommendation, commencing summer 2003. The decision applied only to BTEA participants who were in receipt of an unemployment payment prior to participation in the scheme.
It is estimated that in 2002/2003 the total number affected by the decision to discontinue payment for the summer period was 432. The numbers affected decreased to 324 in 2003/2004 and further decreased to 156 in the 2004/2005 academic year. The number of cases affected by the decision to discontinue payment of BTEA during the current summer vacation period is not available at present.
In 2004, five people who were participants on the scheme at the time the change was introduced, sought a judicial review. Other participants were subsequently attached to the proceedings, bringing a total of 173 persons. The hearing took place on 7 February 2006 and judgement was delivered on 28 February 2006. The judgment found in favour of one individual but did not find in favour of any of the other people attached to the proceedings. The court decided that restitution was due only in respect of the summer vacation period in 2003 and only in the case of the one individual whose action was successful. My Department is currently making the necessary arrangements in relation to the person concerned.
My Department conducted an expenditure review of the BTEA Scheme under the Expenditure Review Initiative which was published in September 2005. Amongst the recommendations of the review was that the position regarding summer payments be monitored but it did not recommend that the payments should be reinstated. I have no plans to make any changes to the summer arrangements for the BTEA Scheme at this time.
Question No. 54 answered with Question No. 52.
Dáil Éireann 621 Written Answers. Social Welfare Benefits.